One of the first things I noticed as I was reviewing director Ryan Swantek’s debut short White Willow was the beautiful special effects work by Sarasota SFX artist Jess Marie. I knew right away that the horror world had found a winner. I was recently lucky enough to chat with her about her inspirations, plans and her time filming White Willow.
PopHorror: When did you first realize you wanted to be an FX artist?
Jess Marie: I guess I just wanted to push myself creatively in the complete opposite direction of beauty makeup. After the 10,000th smoky eye and nude lip, I was like, “Okay, Jess. Let’s start making chloroform vomit, rotted teeth and burns.” (laughs) I’ve been really blessed that people seem to like what I’m doing. I think I have a good balance now- one day I’m doing glamorous bridal makeup and the next day I’m chopping off an arm.
PopHorror: Do you find it difficult to be a female in the FX business?
Jess Marie: Not at all. What’s difficult is being a mom and working as an independent makeup artist. I don’t have an agency representing me or anything so it’s a lot of hustle. Juggling long hours on set and homework and all that is rough sometimes. I realize now why most people I work with on set don’t have kids – it’s hard but I’d rather be swamped with responsibility and ecstatic about life than miserable in a 9-5.
PopHorror: Tell me about your first horror movie experience?
Jess Marie: Hmmmm… Well, I don’t really watch movies. I’ve seen probably 30 in my life. Horror kinda creeps me out. I’m super sensitive and a very visual person, so the things I see get stuck in my head and I don’t really like that. If it’s tacky and dorky overblown horror, than that’s fine. But just to sit down and watch a really scary movie… no way. I watched Human Centipede about a year ago… does that count?
PopHorror: Yeah, I would have to say Human Centipede counts as horror! (laughs) How did you hear about Ryan’s short, White Willow?
Jess Marie: I had worked with Ryan on a few previous projects, like Dylan McDermott’s Sugar, Tony Ahedo’s Barry Baker Aspiring Serial Killer and Justin and Christian Long’s The Real Stephen Blatt. When I’m on set, I watch people. I’m constantly studying others and I took an interest in him. He’s a hard worker, a quick learner and a good person. He’s my little bro, so when he asked me if I would be interested in his first project, White Willow, it was a no brainer.
PopHorror: It seems as though you have a lot in common with the cast a crew from White Willow. What was it like filming the short with them?
Jess Marie: Yes, we’re all like a bowl of minestrone soup! (laughs) Each of us is a unique bean that’s fine on its own, but when we’re all together, we’re better that way! It’s great when the first thing you do when you arrive on set is hug everyone and catch up. Gosh, I’m so lucky to have the job that I have! I get to create something from nothing each day and I get to work with my buddies! Ryan is smart. Making a two minute short was genius in my mind, especially with Ryan, Jada, Tony and myself for crew and Emily for talent. I met Jada and Emily on set of the Real Stephen Blatt. I have known Tony for years from previous projects and I’m the makeup/SF/hair stylist on his series Barry Baker Aspiring Serial Killer. We took a Sunday, made something powerful and that’s that. Now we’re onto the next one. I like the time pocket of 2-3 minute short. Everybody got time fo dat.
PopHorror: How long did it take to apply all that blood and makeup to Emily?
Jess Marie: Well, I did it in sections, depending on how Ryan was shooting. The blood doesn’t really take that much time. I used a few kinds – one that wouldn’t stain for her face and that’s minty and safe if swallowed, and then my own recipe for the sink stuff. The cuts probably took an hour for each side and the arm scars and slices prob 40 minutes. It was nice. I just worked while Ryan and Tony were figuring out shots and then we all would look at each other and give a head nod and start shooting. When your around each other for 12-15 hour set days, you learn how to communicate without talking.
PopHorror: Who inspires you?
Jess Marie: Anyone who has been at the bottom or has failed and decided to make that a part of their story, not the last page of their book. People that have a kind spirit, who think of others before they think of themselves. My #1 inspiration is, of course, my daughter, Lilly. She is my heartbeat and my world.
PopHorror: If you could work with anyone is the business, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
Jess Marie: Inspector Gadget, for sure! I could ask him to collaborate with me and maybe I could have some spring legs and a cool helicopter hat like him. I’d be able to be in all the places I need to be super quick! Mr. Ed would be freaking rad to work with, too. I mean, how cool was he?
PopHorror: That is, beyond a doubt, the best answer I’ve ever had for that question! (laughs) Do you have any projects coming up that you can talk about?
Jess Marie: Well, I have another Justin Long project coming up, and then a Kevin Smith project right after that. Also a series called the Damned and the Divine by Travis Hadley. More episodes of Tony Adhlo’s Barry Baker Aspiring Serial Killer and Ryan’s next project. Nope, can’t talk about any of them. It’s like I’m in a secret society or somethin’. (laughs)
PopHorror: What really scares you?
Jess Marie: Vanity. The dark. Stepping in water where I can’t see the bottom. Dirty, germy hands. And messing up… I’m really hard on myself.
PopHorror: What is your favorite Halloween candy?
Jess Marie: Grape nerds.
PopHorror: If you could create any kind of effect for any kind of movie, what would it be and why?
Jess Marie: That’s a hard one to answer. I like the handmade quality of things. I’m really not picky, I just want to keep making cool stuff and working in film. The beauty side of makeup is very cut throat – no pun intended – very me and my and mine. I like being part of a team and working with creative and passionate people. It’s a good vibe to be around.
PopHorror: What do you do to get the creative juices flowing?
Jess Marie: When I’m asked to do an effect, I research the actual injury. Sometimes I follow victims of crimes through their journey to healing. When that specific scene is wrapped, I clear my phone and brain of it. Burn some sage and try to forget it. I’ve gotten pretty good at switching it on and off. The ocean is my therapist. (laughs)
PopHorror: Last but not least, where did you study to learn your craft?
Jess Marie: I’ve never studied makeup. I never went to school for it. I did go to Ringling School of Art and Design, but my major was illustration and I had a double minor in fine art in sculpture and painting. I still have about four more classes to go.
Keep up with Jess Marie via Instagram @jessmariemakeup and find out what she’s got going on next!